It is four years since George Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
We held a vigil for peace in our church this evening. Planned some time ago, I completely forgot it until last week. Phoning Geraldine, the leader of our local peace and justice group, on Tuesday last, I admitted that I had completely failed to publicise the event.
“Never mind”, said Geraldine, “I will be there and that will make two of us”.
In the event there were thirty-six people present, which, by Church of Ireland standards, is a half decent crowd, though, admittedly, two-thirds of the crowd were Catholics whom Geraldine had rallied.
Extracts from news reports, commentary and speeches from George Bush were interspersed with Scripture; the final secular reading came from Robert Fisk. It is extracted from a report he wrote in The Independent on 11th April, 2007, it presented a chilling prospect:
Faced with an ever-more ruthless insurgency in Baghdad – despite President George Bush’s “surge” in troops – US forces in the city are now planning a massive and highly controversial counter-insurgency operation that will seal off vast areas of the city, enclosing whole neighbourhoods with barricades and allowing only Iraqis with newly issued ID cards to enter.
The campaign of “gated communities” – whose genesis was in the Vietnam War – will involve up to 30 of the city’s 89 official districts and will be the most ambitious counter-insurgency programme yet mounted by the US in Iraq.
So far, the Baghdad campaign has involved only the creation of a few US positions within several civilian areas of the city but the new project will involve joint American and Iraqi “support bases” in nine of the 30 districts to be “gated” off. From these bases – in fortified buildings – US-Iraqi forces will supposedly clear militias from civilian streets which will then be walled off and the occupants issued with ID cards. Only the occupants will be allowed into these “gated communities” and there will be continuous patrolling by US-Iraqi forces. There are likely to be pass systems, “visitor” registration and restrictions on movement outside the “gated communities”. Civilians may find themselves inside a “controlled population” prison.
In theory, US forces can then concentrate on providing physical reconstruction in what the military like to call a “secure environment”. But insurgents are not foreigners, despite the presence of al-Qa’ida in Iraq. They come from the same population centres that will be “gated” and will, if undiscovered, hold ID cards themselves; they will be “enclosed” with everyone else.
A former US officer in Vietnam who has a deep knowledge of General Petraeus’s plans is sceptical of the possible results. “The first loyalty of any Sunni who is in the Iraqi army is to the insurgency,” he said. “Any Shia’s first loyalty is to the head of his political party and its militia. Any Kurd in the Iraqi army, his first loyalty is to either Barzani or Talabani. There is no independent Iraqi army. These people really have no choice. They are trying to save their families from starvation and reprisal. At one time they may have believed in a unified Iraq. At one time they may have been secular. But the violence and brutality that started with the American invasion has burnt those liberal ideas out of people … Every American who is embedded in an Iraqi unit is in constant mortal danger.”
Praying for peace rather than for victory on the part of anyone, I am worried at how many more American lives will be lost, and how many might die in a sectarian blood bath if the Americans go.